This week’s recommendation is Crayon Shin-chan by Yoshito Usui (臼井 義人). I think this was the first manga I ever tried to read in Japanese some time ago, but even now I like to go back and read it.
This highly popular manga is about the adventures of a 5-year-old boy called Shinnosuke Nohara (nicknamed Shin-chan) who generally causes a lot of mischief around him, especially his mother.
The manga is split into several shorter stories that are generally only a few pages long. This makes it an ideal manga for Japanese language learners to dip in and out of as and when you have time to study it.
Crayon Shin chan manages to strike a great balance between laugh out loud moments and relatable moments (if you’ve ever had to look after a small child). Some of the humour can be a bit crude – you can find a few of the anime episodes on YouTube so I would recommend checking these out to get an idea of the type of humour you will find in the manga. Besides the anime series there are also several films, so plenty of material to get into if you do find yourself enjoying the manga.
In terms of language level, you can certainly give this a go if you have covered basic grammar and know the usual slang contractions – JLPT N4 and above should suffice. Like most of the manga I recommend this has everyday language and because of Shin chan’s age the vocabulary used is not too difficult. There are quite a few gags which rely on knowledge of puns in Japanese and aspects of Japanese culture, but I have always found this manga on the whole to be accessible as a language learner.
There is apparently a Japanese-English bilingual version of a couple of volumes (called クレヨンしんちゃんの楽しいゾ英会話) which would be a useful way of trying the manga out if you can get yourself a copy.
I recently wrote a post about using songs to learn Japanese. In that post, I didn’t personally recommend any particular types of songs as I believe that you should try to focus on songs you like listening to instead.
However, later on, it dawned on me that Disney songs are a really good way of studying language via songs, especially as a beginner learner.
If you’ve grown up with films such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (my 90’s kid bias might be showing a bit here!), then listening to the Japanese versions of familiar songs from these films is an enjoyable way of learning new vocabulary. Another advantage of using Disney is that being aimed at kids, the lyrics are normally more straightforward in nature in terms of both grammar and vocabulary and do not have any slang that can often trip up language learners.
How to find song lyrics
I find the best way of finding the Japanese song titles of Disney songs is looking on Wikipedia. For example, if I was looking for the Japanese titles from Frozen I would go to the relevant page and look for information on international releases:
Frozen happens to be a particularly popular film so I could find the song titles under the ‘Japanese release’ tab towards the bottom of the Wiki page for the Frozen soundtrack.
However you may need to go to the English Wiki page first and then select the Japanese version of the same page from the menu on the left hand side. Then look for a category 主題歌 (しゅだいか ‘theme song’) or 挿入歌 (そうにゅうか ‘soundtrack’/ ‘featured songs’) to find song titles – for the most popular songs the English tends to be given in brackets alongside the original Japanese.
Once armed with this information, the website I’ve found the most useful for tracking down Disney song lyrics is this one. Although skewed towards the most popular Disney films of the 1990s, this is the best site I have found with lyrics grouped by the film’s name.
If you are struggling to track down song lyrics, then simply googling the Japanese (or even the English) song title + 歌詞 (かし ‘lyrics’) should lead you to a website with lyrics.
Fortunately a lot of Japanese Disney songs can be found on YouTube with Japanese subtitles too. It helps to know the Japanese title before searching but you may have luck with the English title and if you add ‘Japanese’ on too.
The YouTube channel Nobuyoshi Takeuchi has a large number of Disney songs so is the best place to start.
My favourite Disney songs in Japanese are:
Colours of the Wind/ カラー • オブ • ザ • ウィンド [ポカホンタス/ Pocahontas]
Belle/ ベル [美女と野獣/ Beauty and the Beast]
Love is an Open Door/ 扉を開けて [アナと雪の女王/ Frozen]
What are your favourite Disney songs (in English, Japanese or another language)? Let me know in the comments!
Reading the title you may be thinking, “but how is a browser going to assist my language learning?” As it turns out, there are a couple of nifty extensions available for Google Chrome that I think are essentials for Japanese learners. Here are 3 extensions that I use all the time for boosting my Japanese skills:
Rikaikun (also known as Rikaichan on other platforms such as Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari).
This is an incredibly popular extension and is a must have for Japanese learners. With this extension activated, you can go to a page in Japanese and hover over any word and the reading and English meaning will be displayed in a handy pop up box. With this, tackling a website entirely in Japanese is a lot less scary!
It is also worth noting that Rikaikun is pretty good at recognising the root of conjugated verbs as well as place names, which can sometimes be an issue with apps like this.
Mainichi is a handy extension which will show you a new piece of vocabulary every time you open a new tab in Chrome. The word is shown in kanji, kana and romaji with a helpful pic – handy for reviewing or learning a new piece of vocabulary.
You cannot choose the type of vocabulary that appears but I have found that there is a good mix between simpler and more complicated everyday vocabulary. Besides Japanese, there are also options for Korean and Mandarin Chinese if you are also learning those languages.
Pocket is not specifically for language learning but I use it a lot for Japanese study. The Pocket app allows you to save a page for offline viewing later.
The Chrome extension allows you to add new pages to read later with a click of a button and will sync with the app if you have this installed on another device. I find this useful for saving news stories online – together with Rikaikun, you can make short work of tricky articles. If you install the app on another device you can start reading on your laptop and carry on reading on your mobile.
Are there any must have extensions (on Google Chrome or any other browser) that you cannot live without? Let me know in the comments.
Early on in my Japanese learning, listening to Japanese songs accidentally became part of my study plan. I do not really listen to new Japanese songs much nowadays but every so often I will go back to artists I know I like and study the vocabulary from their latest songs. Language learning is all about fun, so if you love music I recommend trying this out at least once.
Whilst I would recommend studying songs as part of your language journey, there are some pros and cons to consider.
Of course studying something you enjoy helps with learning vocabulary – repetition helps to memorise words more effectively.
Knowing popular songs makes a great talking point with friends or language partners.
It provides an insight into culture – language and culture are inevitably intertwined.
This is true in any language but not all songs reflect how language is actually spoken as lyrics tend to be more poetic.
Song lyrics do not always make sense, so take unusual grammar structures and vocabulary with a pinch of salt.
How I study with songs
Here are the steps I follow when I use songs as study materials:
Step 0 – Find a song you like.
This is Step 0 because I’m assuming when you read this post you already have a song in mind to study with!
I generally find ballad style songs to be a good choice because these are more likely to tell a cohesive story than a dance track for example.
There is also an amazing podcast called Japan Top 10 which showcases music currently in the charts as well as episodes dedicated to some of the most popular Japanese artists.
Step 1 – Find the song lyrics.
Google is your friend here: simply search for the artist name and/or song title, then add ‘歌詞’ (かし‘kashi’ meaning lyrics). The website I often use is called Uta-Net (all in Japanese). Just type the artist or song name into the search box and click on the red button to search.
Step 2 – Listen to the song with lyrics.
How much can you understand just by having the lyrics in front of you whilst you listen? You might surprise yourself with what you can pick up at this stage – I often find that seeing the words written down helps you to pick out the words you already know.
Step 3 – Arm yourself with a dictionary/ Japanese friend and get meanings for the vocabulary and grammar structures you are unfamiliar with.
Use this exercise to get a feel for the overall meaning of the song. I wouldn’t worry too much about finding an exact translation into English as this is not always possible.
However, translating can be a fun exercise to check if you have grasped the general meaning of the song. Again Google is really useful for finding a fan page of your favourite artist which may have English translations that you can compare your version to. Can’t find a translation? It may be worth posting your own and making translations a new hobby!
As previously mentioned, there may be kanji usage or grammar that doesn’t necessarily appear in everyday Japanese so make a note of it here. If you have a language notebook make sure you only jot down the most commonly used kanji or correct grammar structures. If you are a fan of flashcards, I would make new flashcards of the most common kanji/ vocabulary that crops up at this stage.
Step 4 – Listen again when you have looked up unfamiliar words and phrases.
How much do you understand now? It should be much more now that you have a better grasp on the song meaning.
Step 5 – Karaoke!
Japan is the home of karaoke and I couldn’t possibly write an article about Japanese songs without mentioning it. If you live in Japan I recommend you take the opportunity to go for an hour and try singing a couple of songs, no matter what your singing ability.
Having to follow the Japanese lyrics onscreen is not easy, but if you go regularly you will really build up your reading speed, especially when it comes to kanji.
Not in Japan? Try searching for a song you like on Youtube and see if you can find a karaoke version/ lyric video to practice with.
Bonus: if you play an instrument you may finding actually playing and singing along to songs helpful too. If you play guitar (or sometimes attempt to play the ukulele like me) you can find chord tabs for popular songs by Googling the song title together with コード (chords). I tend to use a website called Gakki.me.
How do you use songs as part of your language learning? Let me know in the comments!
I came across a video by Hyunwoo of ‘Talk to Me in Korean’ which encouraged journalling in a foreign language on a daily basis. I was inspired to give this a go myself, and I think it can have a positive impact on your language learning from day one!
Why is journalling in a foreign language recommended?
Keeping a language diary is a way to aid your language learning especially when you are unable to immerse yourself in other ways. For example, you might have no native speakers nearby to talk to. It is really important to practice your production skills in your target language, so writing is the next best area to focus on.
I’ve become acutely aware recently that my speaking and writing skills in Japanese have suffered a lot. I took a break from learning Japanese and so I am keen to build these skills back up again. As it happens, I ended up with two 2017 diaries, so journalling in a foreign language is a great way of putting the spare diary to use.
My experiences journalling in Japanese so far
I have been doing this for a couple of weeks and I am really enjoying it so far. One thing I immediately discovered is that I absolutely have to write out the diary entries. On busy days, I settle for just typing a couple of sentences on my phone. Writing in my diary seems to engage my brain in a different way compared to typing on my laptop. Having said that, I have always found that handwriting things in Japanese helps me to remember things more easily.
I think this is even more important where the writing system of your target language differs to your native language(s). In the age of predictive text, you can end up solely relying on your ability to recognise words rather than producing them. For Japanese, I have found it much easier to pinpoint which kanji I need to review if I cannot immediately recall how to write it.
I keep my journal very simple (ie. boring), but I have seen some amazing language journals on Pinterest and YouTube!
But I don’t know what to write/ I have just begun studying a new language!
Don’t worry about the content of your entries too much. Even writing out a new word you have learned a few times will help to consolidate your knowledge.
This is the time to experiment with new words and phrases you may have learnt but try to put these into sentences where possible. Some people find writing out sentences that they already know to be correct is helpful for revising new grammar points and vocabulary.
I used to highly recommend a website called Lang-8 for longer pieces of writing. Aimed at language learners, you can publish posts and ask native speakers to read and correct your work. Japanese friends, of course, may be happy to do this for you but sometimes getting input from complete strangers can provide a fresh perspective.
Unfortunately, Lang-8 is not accepting new applications so if you do not already have an account I would check out Hello Talk or Italki’s Notebook instead. Both of these sites work in a similar way to HiNative and Lang-8, and are free to use!
Being a community of fellow language learners, I have always found people on these websites to be extremely helpful with anything I need help with. Make sure that you return the favour and review other people’s writing!
Finally, don’t forget to periodically look back what you have written. I think that this is a great way to stay motivated with Japanese, as you can see your progress.
Do you keep a journal in Japanese/ another language? Have you found it useful so far? Let me know in the comments.
Today’s recommendation is Orange by Ichigo Takano. I have been meaning to read this for a while and I am so glad that I finally got round to reading it!
The story centres around a girl called Naho who receives a letter from herself 10 years in the future, warning her to make changes to her actions at high school to prevent a tragedy linked to her friendship group from happening in the future. The letter comes with a diary giving certain key dates and events that all help to change the future for the better. By heeding these warnings, Naho not only impacts the future of those around her but also learns a great deal about herself in the process. The manga switches back and forth between the present day Naho and the future version of herself, which is particularly engaging as you get increasingly curious about what has happened in the intervening years.
Orange grabbed me immediately and I couldn’t stop myself from reading it until I got to the end. I think the idea of wanting to go back in time and change things is something that everyone can relate to, especially when looking back to your school days. In addition, the relationships amongst Naho’s friendship group is particularly pleasant to read and this only makes the dramatic aspects of this manga more powerful. Part high school drama, part sci-fi, the blend between the two genres make the manga accessible but a little bit different from other slice of life manga you may have come across previously.
I recommend this manga to Japanese learners because the language used is everyday – no specialist vocabulary required. If you’re familiar with common slang, particularly within the high school setting, then following the characters’ dialogues is pretty straightforward. In terms of language level, I would recommend this for N4-N3 learners.
This is a continuation of the list of my favourite free online Japanese reading resources for those who are relatively new to the language. Part 1 is a list of non-fiction resources, but if you find prefer reading Japanese fiction, then this is the article for you!
Those specifically interested in children’s materials should take a look at my post on children’s stories in Japanese which goes into detail on free or very cheap resources you can use.
As with my first post, I have a list of links below with a little bit of an explanation as to why I recommend each one.
This website has a variety of resources for Japanese language learners, but I specifically recommend that beginners take a look at some of the beginner level dialogues (there are also a few essays about Japanese culture in the reading section as well). I’ve included it on this list because even if you’ve just finished with hiragana, you can start reading these useful dialogues.
Both the essays and the dialogues are good for reading practice as each allows you to set the kanji and English translations on or off. As a beginner, you do not always want to jump into reading long articles, and therefore dialogues are a particularly good way of ensuring you are picking up the correct situational words and phrases across various topics.
Wasabi has five stories (a mixture of Japanese classics and traditional Western stories like Jack and the Beanstalk) broken down into a number of lessons that split the story up into shorter sections. Each lesson has Japanese audio (at both slow speed and normal speed), furigana, English translations and a vocabulary list – perfect for a study session!
Wasabi recommends these story lessons at N4 level learners and I think this series offers a good entry point for upper beginners to start learning about famous Japanese stories.
This website has a small collection of classic Japanese children’s stories. These stories are so often referenced in other media that it is always a good idea to read them at least once! All stories on the site come with furigana for all kanji used as well as lists of key vocabulary and phrases.
What is particularly great about the website is that each story has a sentence by sentence English translation. I would say that due to the line by line translations, the English does not always flow naturally. However, this is actually extremely useful for beginners since you can compare grammar and sentence structure between the two languages.
If you cannot get enough of children’s stories, Hukumusume is the website for you. Do not be put off by the fact that this is aimed at Japanese children, because it still remains a good resource for Japanese learners. Each story is accompanied by audio, which makes the stories good for reading and listening practice. What’s more, the website has over 40 Japanese stories that are bilingual (Japanese and English) and are written entirely in hiragana.
The website has a much bigger range of stories in Japanese only, although there is no furigana. Therefore having a plugin like Rikaichan here is recommended for looking up unknown words quickly.
There are children’s stories from around the world on this website so you may prefer to start with a story from the 世界の昔話 section – here you can select stories from a country of your choice and focus on stories you are already familiar with.
Satori Reader is from the people behind Human Japanese and is a great resource for those wanting to read a range of materials in Japanese. The website has a number of different story series, as well as dialogues for different situations.
Each series has a number of stories within them, which have difficulty ratings. The articles on the site are great for beginners and above because the range of features means that it is possible to follow any of the stories.
Once you select a story, you will be able to see the text and click on any word or phrase for an English translation (including conjugated verbs). As you can see from the image below, options to toggle kanji, furigana and spaces between words on or off are available. There is also audio for the article as a whole and for each sentence – ideal for shadowing.
The translations and notes provided are extremely useful as they are both specific to the words you highlight, and the context of the sentence or phrase it is used in. You can comment on the article when any questions you may have, and one of the team will provide an explanation.
When you sign up for an account, you can access some of these stories for free, although a paid subscription is required to read all of the website’s content. Satori Reader now has an app for iOS and Android which looks great for reading practice on the go.
Aozora is a directory of Japanese literature that is now out of copyright. You can find a huge variety of literature from some of the most famous writers of the last century, including Osamu Dazai and Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Since they are out of copyright, you are free to download the stories and convert them so that you can read them on your Kindle – this website already has Aozora stories in an ebook-friendly MOBI format.
The website is entirely in Japanese so I would recommend that beginners look up the kanji for a specific author using the search box, and then choose a story that way. As you might expect, Japanese from the early 20th century is different from how it is today, so choosing the right author and the right story can be tricky.
Today’s recommendation is 甘党ペンギン(あまとうペンギン/ amatou pengin/ ‘Sweets Penguin’) by Kenji Sonishi. This is a manga series about Penta (ペン太) the penguin who is a rather well known attraction living at the local zoo. He begins to frequent a coffee shop run by a young man called Inoguchi. Naturally, Inoguchi is not only shocked by a penguin visiting his cafe but also by Penta’s dedication to trying out various desserts and sweet treats with his coffee.
Each chapter showcases two or three of these desserts that do actually exist in Japan, particularly Hokkaido.
The chapter then ends with ratings and comments on each of the desserts featured. Like Cooking Papa I do not advise reading on an empty stomach as you will get hungry! Whilst Japanese learners outside of Japan may not be interested in how these desserts are rated, I still recommend this manga. The interactions between the various characters at the cafe are entertaining to read. More importantly, the language in this manga is much more accessible than others and so I think if you have covered all N5 grammar and vocabulary you would be able to get started with this fairly easily. Furigana is included with all kanji characters which allows you to look up unfamiliar words, and each chapter is fairly short which are both pluses for beginner learners.
Have you read this manga? Let me know what you think in the comments!
Besides Cooking Papa mentioned above, if you like this manga you might also like my other manga recommendations:
Are you interested in listening to news articles whilst learning Japanese but don’t have time to tackle a full length piece? Then News in Slow Japanese may be the podcast for you.
Every week or so Sakura produces a short podcast of 2-3 minutes long covering something that has been in the news recently. Each episode of the podcast has this news piece read at a slower pace to allow learners to pick up on words and grammar points they may not have caught at native speed. There is also a version of the same article being read at native speed to test your listening skills.
I had been alternating between the slower speed and native speed episodes to see what I could pick up, and then looking up the words I didn’t know to add to my language journal. Little did I know that the website for News In Slow Japanese is a wonderful resource in itself – here you can find printable pages for each episode with transcripts in kana and romaji as well as ready made vocabulary lists! It is also worth mentioning that the website allows you to sort by topic, so if there is a topic you would like to study in more depth you can choose to focus on that only, which is useful no matter your Japanese language level is.
These podcasts and accompanying website have clearly been decided with language learners in mind. I think this resource is a good way of dipping your toe into newspaper style articles and seeing how much you can pick up: at only a couple of minutes long it is easy to listen to an episode a day without feeling too overwhelming. Sakura herself recommends using the podcasts to shadow a native speaker’s pronounciation, rhythm and intonation, which is certainly a great way of making use of the podcast in addition to testing your listening skills. Some of the earlier episodes have YouTube videos with the transcript, which some learners may find helpful too.
Everything I have mentioned above is free, although Sakura offers a monthly subscription service that gives you access to additional study materials for reading comprehension, vocabulary tests and shadowing.
I think this resource is best more intermediate and above learners, but I think the short form of the episodes makes the podcast accessible to advanced beginners too.
There is no shortage of Japanese learning resources online, but finding reading materials for Japanese beginners outside of textbooks can be really difficult. This is something I really struggled with when I had just started to learn Japanese, and found pretty much all native materials to be far too complicated – it was incredibly demotivating.
For that reason, I really wanted to put a list of resources together that is aimed at those who have recently begun learning the language. Here are a few of my favourites that are appropriate for JLPT level N5-N4 learners.
**Note** This is a two-part post, with this post focusing on non-fiction articles. If you are looking for articles that are a bit different to the above then please check out Part 2 in the series, which are mostly resources for Japanese fiction.
Similarly, if studying with children’s books appeals to you, then I have written a whole post dedicated to reading and listening resources for children’s stories.
This is a free web news magazine with short and interesting articles aimed at Japanese beginners up to intermediate level (corresponding to between JLPT N5 and N3). You can filter by JLPT level, or narrow down articles by topic if you prefer. If you click on certain pieces of vocabulary you can check the kanji reading and English meaning.
Translations of each article are available in English, Vietnamese or Chinese – just hover over the name of the language under each Japanese sentence to read its translation. The articles have a lot of pictures and Japanese audio which all in all makes it a great place to read interesting stories about Japan.
Like Watanoc, this is a website run by the Japan Foundation with short articles on Japanese culture in simple Japanese. It is an excellent site for practicing your reading comprehension as you have to option to add furigana, hide the vocabulary lists and there is also a mini quiz at the end of each article to test your understanding.
All articles have pictures and short video clips as well as the Japanese audio which provides a fun multimedia experience. The articles are grouped by topic, so you can easily focus on something that you are interested in.
There is no indication of the level of language used, but I believe that the articles are very accessible to N5 and N4 level learners. If you do get stuck, you can easily switch the website language from Japanese to English by clicking the button in the top-right corner.
If you’ve taken a look at a newspaper article in Japanese, you’ll know that it is often full of tricky formal grammar structures and vocabulary. Fortunately, NHK News Web Easy is a website that has recent news stories written in simple Japanese.
The articles are an ideal length for the beginner and get you used to the style of newspaper articles in Japanese. Each article allows you to read the news articles with furigana readings (or not if you fancy a bigger challenge!). I like that the names mentioned in the articles are highlighted in different colours depending on whether it is the name or a person or place.
As you can see from the image, you are able to watch a short video and listen to an audio version of the article. NHK News Web Easy is a highly recommended resource which is ideal for practicing your reading and listening skills, as well as to keep up with current events in Japan.
This website has been around for a fairly long time, but still remains a really good resource for Japanese learners. There are a lot of learning materials on the Coscom website, but I particularly recommend the Weather Forecast and the Headline News articles for upper beginners (in terms of vocabulary and grammar I’d estimate this to be around N4 level) on the left side-bar.
Both pages are comprehensive in content as they have the option to view the articles in romaji, kana or kanji and also include Japanese audio. Below each article, you can see a sentence by sentence breakdown of the article where you can see the vocabulary and grammar points used.
Unfortunately, only the most recent articles are available for free but it is worth checking the website every week or so for new material to read.
The English language Matcha Magazine website is a Japanese travel magazine full of recommendations for places to visit and things to do in Japan.
I recently discovered that if you click on the languages drop-down menu, you can change the website language from English to やさしい日本語. This allows you to read the same types of travel articles but in simpler Japanese compared to the Japanese version of the website. I would estimate the difficulty of the language used to be appropriate for upper beginner to intermediate learners (JLPT N4 and above).
Each article comes with furigana and English for some of the katakana words (this is pretty useful as some words can be incredibly difficult to work out!). This website is a bit more difficult to study with since it does not have English meanings for vocabulary on the same page. However, you can always refer to the English language versions of each article to check your comprehension.
I recommend using a reading assistant such as Rikaichan(Firefox)/ Rikaikun (Google Chrome) or japanese.io to quickly look up English meanings.
When I was at upper beginner level, I was always searching for kids’ versions of newspaper articles in Japanese online. Unfortunately a lot of this material is behind a paywall for major newspapers in Japan, but Yahoo does still have some articles for free on their website.
Since these articles are aimed at Japanese children, they do not come with furigana readings but are short and written using simpler grammar. As with Matcha JP, using a reading assistant tool will help make reading sessions a breeze. I recommend this website for those who are JLPT N4 and above.
So that is my list so far – I am always updating and adding to this list as I discover new resources. I also (try to) keep my Japanese Masterpost page updated with reading resources.
With these being online resources (and so subject to disappear from websites suddenly), I usually save a copy of the articles I read for offline viewing using a tool such as Pocket or Evernote. I used to print out a lot of articles so that I could scribble down notes relating to the grammar and vocabulary used.
What do you like to read in Japanese? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments!